Beowulf Literary Analysis
Beowulf Social events are a major indication of what a society believes and how they function. Funerals, parties and other social gatherings tend to reveal the character’s morals; yet, they seem to reveal more than that. The societal values and customs are exposed through these social occasions. In Beowulf, there are three funerals that contribute to the revealing of this society’s values. Overall, these funerals give this epic poem a sense of culture. The poems are dispersed throughout the poem. The first funeral occurs in the lines one through fifty-two; the funeral of Scyld Scefing.
The second funeral is that of Hildeburg’s kin, and this arises in lines 1107 through 1124. The last funeral is the great Beowulf’s, which happens in lines 3737 through 3182. Scyld Scefing is the deceased king of the Danes, and he was well-loved. The burial of the dead at this time gave tribute to their character: A boat with a ringed neck rode in the haven, ice, out-eager, the atheling’s vessel, and there they laid out their lord and master, dealer of wound gold, in the waist of the ship, in majesty by the mast.
A mound of treasures from far countries was fetched aboard her, and it is said that no boat was ever more bravely fitted out with the weapons of a warrior, war accoutrement, swords and body-armor. (Damrosch, and Dettmar 33-40). Scyld Scefing is seen was a great warrior by his people. The weapons and body armor symbolizes this characteristic. He is also seen as an even better leader. Burial with the treasure is to signify the king’s greatness compared to the gold. Through the funeral of Scyld, the writer familiarizes the reader with the concept of a heroic society, which leads to the introduction of the poems hero, Beowulf.
The possessions which Scyld is buried with represent the significance of them in this society. Material assets define a person’s status and importance. The funeral also helps to glorify the concept of battle. This leads to the introduction of Grendel, the main antagonist and helps to move the plot forward. Hildburg’s kin is the second funeral to occur. He is buried with his treasures and armors; however, this funeral is focused on the emotions of the one lost in battle. “Displayed on his pyre, plain to see were the bloody mail-shirt, the boards on the helmets, iron-hard, gold-clad; and gallant men about him all marred by their wounds…” Damrosch, and Dettmar 1109-1112). Beside the treasure is the blood-stained armor of the fallen warrior. This symbolizes a battle of gore rather than glory. Even though the glory of battle is important, the people see that they are not imperishable. This serves as a message for Beowulf, and, eventually, leads up to the battle with Grendel’s mother. The final funeral is that of Beowulf’s. This funeral goes above and beyond the others. He is seen as a “great chief” and “their cherished lord” (Damrosch, and Dettmar 3139). His burial indicates that his people loved him greatly. It was not a petty mound, but shining mail-coats and shields of war and helmets hung upon it, as he had desired” (Damrosch, and Dettmar 3135-3136). Beowulf is seen as a tremendous warrior. He risked his life to kill the dragon, and, as a leader, succeeded. The remains of the dragon were thrown into the sea along with him, so he could be forever buried with his prize of glory. The people “uttered their sorrow at the slaughter of their lord” (Damrosch, and Dettmar 3145-3146). They truly loved their king, and this is a heavy loss for them.
This funeral, once again, demonstrates the importance of gold and jewels, along with war supplies. Beowulf’s funeral is a conclusion to the heroic epic. The societal values of Beowulf’s country are clearly expressed through the burials of the kings and warriors. They value gold. Wealth determines a person’s status. To become wealthy; however, one must be a great warrior. To be considered a great warrior, the enemy must be a quality adversary. Grendel and his mother were terrorizing the Danes, and Beowulf executes both of them.
Battles that end in victory lead to rewards. These gifts usually come in the form of gold. Great kings give out gold regularly, because they have an abundance of it. Kings are also phenomenal warriors. They will risk their life in order to save the country. The customs and norms of any society can be seen in social gatherings such as: weddings, parties, feasts and funerals. They can also expose the status of a person. The three funerals each reveal a different aspect of the culture of this society, and they display a certain characteristic of each person.
In this society, bravery and wealth are common respected characteristics. Not much has changed in today’s world. Soldiers are well- respected, as well as the millionaires. People who risk their life for our country are heroes, just as in Beowulf. The wealthy people of today’s society are respected as well. They have just as much control over society as the king did in Beowulf’s time period. The societal values have not changed. Works Cited Damrosch, David, and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. Ed. The Longman Anthology: British Literature. Fourth. 1A. New York: Pearson Education, 2010. 36-107.